Everyone knows that in today’s NFL, you won’t go far or sustain success without a good quarterback. Just ask all the teams in the AFC East other than the Patriots. That’s the No. 1 on-field storyline in a game full of them on Sunday: Tom Brady vs. Russell Wilson.
The No. 2 elite matchup is at shutdown cornerback. The fact that New England (Darrelle Revis) and Seattle (Richard Sherman) are in Super Bowl XLIX and each employ the top two corners in the league is more than a coincidence. In fact, you could argue that Revis is the most valuable Patriot this year, right up there with Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski. It’s hard to say if New England would have made it this far without its All-Pro cornerback, but we know that Revis completely changed the team’s identity (they had the eighth fewest points allowed in the regular season) when he was signed as a free agent in March to a two-year deal.
For years, the Patriots were a finesse team. They scored tons of points on offense but then would routinely fold in the postseason when they played physical defenses that pushed them around (Jets, Ravens, Giants, etc.). The Pats somehow needed to become one of those teams with a rugged defense, to balance off their already spectacular offense.
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Before he tore his ACL in 2012 with the Jets, Revis was the undisputed top cornerback in the NFL. He spent a year in Tampa Bay, before rightfully regaining his place at the top this season.
In that time, the mouthy Sherman also made a name for himself with his play on the field, and his constant trash talk.
It is football 101, but having a top cornerback allows you to nullify a top receiver on another team, allowing the rest of the defense to be more aggressive and take chances.
Revis’ numbers in 2014 do not jump off the screen (47 tackles, two forced fumbles, two interceptions), but that’s the point when you are in his position. Very rarely do opposing teams even test him. The same goes for Sherman (57 tackles, one forced fumble, four interceptions in regular season).
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck made the mistake in the AFC Championship Game of tossing an underthrown pass near Revis and he made Indy pay with an interception and 30-yard return that nearly went for a touchdown.
Having Revis makes everyone else on New England’s defense better. Devin McCourty was already a fringe Pro Bowler, but he’s taken another step forward in 2014. Fellow safety Patrick Chung returned to the Patriots this season after a brief stint in Philly and suddenly looks like an impact player. Former Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner has also brought a toughness not seen in New England’s secondary since they were winning Super Bowls 10 years ago.